A Deadly Case of Inner Conflict

Our struggle to make sense of what seems senseless.

These murders challenge us to make sense of what seems senseless.

We struggle to understand the mind of mass killers. Their evil actions blast away at the moorings of civilization and blacken the soul of humanity.

One of these acts of violence was investigated this month in The New Yorker magazine. The article, written by author and psychiatry lecturer Andrew Solomon, examines the life of Adam Lanza, the 20-year-old who shot and killed his mother, 20 children and six teachers, and then himself at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, on December 14, 2012.

Adam’s father, Peter Lanza, came forward to be interviewed by Solomon about his relationship with his son and about his understanding of his son’s mental health, in the hope of being helpful to others. Mr. Lanza has labored painfully since the day of the shootings to comprehend the horrific crime.

Adam Lanza, as Solomon’s article says, “was never typical.” He showed hypersensitivity at a young age, was diagnosed with sensory-integration disorder and later with Asperger’s syndrome (mild autism), and was susceptible to seizures. According to his father, he was “just a normal little weird kid” who displayed a sharp sense of humor and a keen intelligence. Although his emotional stability deteriorated through his teenage years, no one feared that he would become violent.

The article covers a lot of ground, yet still it leaves unanswered questions as to Adam’s motive for committing the atrocities. A forensic psychiatrist is quoted saying that Adam’s actions expressed this message: “I carry profound hurt—I’ll go ballistic and transfer it onto you.” Solomon, the author of the article, concludes that this statement reveals “as much motive as we’re likely to find.”

I believe, however, that we can acquire further insight into the killer’s state of mind, along with more understanding of his motive. [Read more…]

Overcoming a Type of Resistance to Studying

Studying can be a lot easier when we understand inner passivity.

Studying can be a lot easier when we understand inner passivity.

This topic is addressed as an exchange of e-mails between me and a visitor to this website.

Reader’s comment: I have always been a studious person. Grades were important . . . I was also interested in learning and still am. However, now that I’m at university I’m avoiding studying. It’s not laziness or not caring. I feel fear. I have studied by myself all my life, so absence of family is not a big factor.

Whenever I do manage to study, I feel depressed afterwards. I feel like I have no energy, am mentally foggy, and at the mercy of my thoughts and criticism. All other life issues come back in full force, and I often cry. I also feel depressed again. I used to be very depressed, but now manage to keep it in check and mostly stand up for myself, except when it comes to studying.

Unfortunately, studying is necessary. I want to understand this reaction. More importantly, I want to feel pleased with myself after having studied for the allotted time. . . With all the inner work I’ve done, it feels as if this reaction has a strange power to put me right back to the beginning. I find it very painful.

Is it because studying is a “passive” thing to do? I feel much better after physical activity and such. But after studying, I feel robbed of the little inner strength and confidence I try hard to build every day. . . Why would this be? Do you have any ideas?

My response: I’ll suggest one possibility. Let me know whether you think it applies to you. Indeed, it appears that you’re having a passive reaction to studying. [Read more…]

The Human Weakness behind Alcoholism

Alcoholism is caused in part by inner conflict.

Inner conflict contributes to alcoholism.

Many alcoholics and addictive personalities resist the idea that their plight is in any way due to character weakness. Any such allegation, they feel, categorizes them as substandard people who are to blame for their troubles. Weakness of character or “moral weakness” is not what causes alcoholism, one addiction website states emphatically. This is true, yet we can’t ignore the influence of a certain kind of inner weakness in the psyche.  

There’s an essential reason alcoholics are sensitive to this allegation that character weakness is behind their out-of-control drinking: Inwardly, this accusation is directed at them on a daily basis by their inner critic. The inner critic (superego) is a primitive, aggressive agency of the human psyche, and it berates alcoholics with allegations that range in intensity from “You should be trying harder to stay sober!” to “You worthless, no good loser! Look at you! You’re truly disgusting!”

Everyone has an inner critic or superego, and for many of us that part of our psyche has assumed the role of the master of our personality. It can harass and scorn us for the slightest misdemeanors. Our inner critic can attack us for a wide variety of alleged “crimes,” most viciously for the idea that we are somehow a failure or a loser. In some people, the inner critic is an absolute tyrant that causes much of their unhappiness and suffering. 

Unconsciously, we give credence to these allegations. We become inwardly defensive and absorb emotionally the negative charges directed against us. As alcoholics struggle defensively to deflect these charges, they might say, “It’s not that big a problem” or “I’m trying, it’s not my fault, I don’t know what comes over me.” [Read more…]

Men’s Resistance to Women’s Empowerment

Men have to grow in themselves in order to encourage women's empowerment.

Men have to grow in themselves in order to encourage women’s empowerment.

A lack of fairness and justice still handicaps women, and the causes for such discrimination run deep into the recesses of the human psyche. Humanity can only progress to the degree that women do. So we need to root out some of the primitive elements of this inequity.

Injustice surfaces everywhere. “Women are still the majority of the world’s poor, the uneducated, the unhealthy, the unfed,” Hillary Clinton said in a speech to the United Nations. “Simply put, the world cannot make lasting progress if women and girls in the 21st century are denied their rights and left behind.”  

For the most part, men are not being malicious. Their discriminating reactions arise from psychological influences that are largely unconscious. The “feminine discount” problem stems in part from an age-old mentality that still perceives social relations in terms of who is superior and who is inferior. This mentality, dating back hundreds or thousands of generations, has been acted out by both sexes through religious affiliation (“my religion is superior to yours”), wealth (“my wealth puts me in a better class of people”), race (“my race is superior to yours”), intelligence (“I am smarter and therefore obviously better than you”), political power (“my authority makes me a superior person”), and gender (“as a man, I am more powerful and therefore better than women.”)  

This mentality works both ways: while many people of both sexes eagerly believe in their superiority, many others passively accept their alleged inferiority without inner ripples of protest or rebellion. Either way, people are exhibiting a lack of consciousness or evolvement. The missing ingredient is an emotional and mental connection to one’s intrinsic value and goodness.  [Read more…]

The Missing Link in OCD

The missing link lurks in our psyche behind the symptoms.

The missing link lurks in our psyche behind the painful symptoms.

You can’t touch it, see it, or smell it. But it’s there all the time, the hidden instigator of numerous human ailments and miseries including obsessive-compulsive disorder.

Experts attribute obsessive-compulsive disorder to various sources such as genetic factors and dysfunctional brain processes, as well as allergies and other sensory problems that produce anxiety and stress. Yet a common cause of OCD—inner passivity in the human psyche—is hardly ever mentioned. The fingerprint of inner passivity can be found on all the common expressions of OCD.

Readers of the posts at this website are familiar with my descriptions of inner passivity. This inner condition was first identified in classical psychoanalysis as an extension of the subordinate or unconscious ego. I have shown how inner passivity is an emotional weakness that is linked to many painful and self-defeating experiences and behaviors such as anxiety, depression, procrastination, shame, guilt, panic attacks, and addictions. In this post, I provide explanations that show how inner passivity is the common link among the primary types and symptoms of OCD.

Inner passivity is a hidden glitch in human nature, and it can plague us even when in daily life we’re capable of being assertive and effective. As one of its most striking features, inner passivity, when experienced acutely, causes us to become emotionally entangled in a sense of helplessness and to feel overwhelmed by the everyday challenges of life. (Read, Lost in the Fog of Inner Passivity.)

One of the most common forms of OCD is called “checking.” People become anxious that they’ve failed to lock a door, switch off lights, or turn off the stove or toaster. Some OCD sufferers have persistent fears of hitting pedestrians while driving. [Read more…]

The Double Barrels of Gun Mania

Psychological issues lurk in the psyche of staunch gun-rights defenders.

Psychological issues lurk in the psyche of many staunch gun-rights defenders.

We all agree about the need to keep guns out of the hands of the mentally ill. Perhaps we also need to look at some psychological issues influencing staunch defenders of gun rights. Many of these individuals are not paragons of mental health because two of their unrecognized emotional issues are triggering a double-barreled blast of self-defeat.

Before looking down these barrels, let us acknowledge our human temptation to become enthralled by objects such as guns. We love our playthings such as cars and boats. Collectors love their guns, coins, stamps, antiques, model trains, and so on. This interest or fascination can be harmless enough and a source of considerable enjoyment. Yet psychological development is impeded when we use a possession such as a luxury car or expensive painting to provide status or fill an inner emptiness. Our enthusiasm for possessions can rise to the level of a fixation or obsession, at which point our lack of self-development causes us to lose perspective and sell short the richness of our essential self.

Because guns are relatively inexpensive, they’re not usually purchased for status. Instead, they provide two psychological defenses—the double barrels of self-defeat—that make their ownership so desirable. One barrel discharges the illusion of safety and the other the illusion of power. Why do so many gun owners grasp at these illusions or inner defenses? [Read more…]

Exterminate Infestations of Negative Thoughts

Our negative thoughts can feel as if they are reality-based.

Our negative thoughts often feel as if they are reality-based.

Negative thoughts are like termites that chew up and spit out our happiness. Many of us are frequently overwhelmed by such worrisome, anxious, fearful, and hateful thoughts. These thoughts gnaw at the fabric of our life, yet we’re often oblivious to basic knowledge that can eradicate this intrusive infestation.

These thoughts often seem reality-based. Certainly, it’s easy to believe the content of these thoughts. They seem to capture objectively the nature and extent of our plight. When they overpopulate our mind, they can produce an ugly reality, a self-defeating acting out of our negative outlook and worst fears. We must understand, though, that they represent a subjective impression rather than any deeper truth about us or our life.

Before getting to the liberating knowledge, let’s look at a list of common negative thoughts. (This list is bleak and grim, and we can insert a little levity by reading this section as experimental poetry noir.) I’ve separated this list into three categories that are explained further on:

A. Negative thoughts associated with inner passivity: No one understands me or knows what I feel; I’ll never make it; I can’t get started; I’m so weak, helpless, and out of control; I can’t get things together; I can’t finish anything; I don’t think I can go on; I feel like I’m alone against the world; I know I have a serious disease; I’ll never be healthy and happy again; What’s the point of trying?  [Read more…]

Why We’re Quick to “Go Negative”

There’s a reason we’re so easily “ticked off.”

Comedian Bill Maher wrote an amusing article in The New York Times recently, asking, “When did we get it in our heads that we have the right to never hear anything we don’t like?”

In the article, Maher makes the point that we’ve become too easily offended and too quick to be outraged over nothing. It’s as if we’re eager to take everything personally.

Well, guess what? Unconsciously, we are indeed eager to take things personally. We jump at the chance to feel insulted, disrespected, or disgusted by what others say, even though their words may be only mildly inappropriate, or even just candid, and have nothing directly to do with us.

Why would we want to feel that aggravation? Obviously, we’re the ones who suffer with tension and stress if we get “ticked off” this way. Once triggered, we’re stuck with a negative feeling that can last for days. [Read more…]

The Mayo Clinic’s Bogus Psychology

Forgiveness can be misused.

Many health experts claim that we need to embrace forgiveness if we want to let go of anger, resentment, and thoughts of revenge after someone we care about has hurt us.

Phooey! We don’t have to forgive them at all. Our peace of mind isn’t about forgiving others. It’s about seeing how, in our emotional reactions to the behaviors of others, we’re likely to be replaying our own unresolved issues and stumbling unnecessarily into suffering.

A party to this psychological jabber, the highly regarded Mayo Clinic, a medical institute known for its research and education on health matters, has on its website a misleading article written by its own staff, titled “Forgiveness: Letting go of grudges and bitterness,” that reads in part:

Nearly everyone has been hurt by the actions or words of another. Perhaps your mother criticized your parenting skills, your colleague sabotaged a project or your partner had an affair. These wounds can leave you with lasting feelings of anger, bitterness or even vengeance — but if you don’t practice forgiveness, you might be the one who pays most dearly. By embracing forgiveness, you can also embrace peace, hope, gratitude and joy.

This shallow advice says that letting go of grudges and bitterness depends on forgiveness. Forgiveness is sometimes appropriate, of course, especially when we have been gravely victimized. Yet as a remedy for conflict, it can easily be misused and misunderstood. To understand the bogus nature of the Mayo Clinic’s advice, let’s take a close look at each of the three examples from the institute’s posting. [Read more…]

Underlying Dynamics that Breed Bullies

Self-doubt concerning personal value influences both the bully and the victim.

If we want our society to put a stop to bullying—an excellent goal, of course, one embraced by President Barack Obama, educators, and celebrities—we can help the cause by better understanding the underlying psychological dynamics of bullying and by teaching this knowledge to our kids.

What are these underlying dynamics? The bully—girl or boy, man or woman—appears bold and confident on the surface. But this person is emotionally entangled in substantial self-doubt. All of us grow up with some degree of self-doubt. This feeling can be quite conscious and intense, or it can be repressed and inconspicuous. Our self-doubt produces uncertainty concerning our value, significance, strength, goodness, and worthiness. Even more so, it can produce deep emotional convictions that we are lacking in value, are deeply flawed, and are deserving of disrespect.

Self-doubt is a universal condition. We compensate somewhat for the painfulness of it when others give us recognition, acceptance, praise, and validation. The existence of self-doubt is evident in the human passion for fame, glory, power, and wealth, all of which bestow an illusion of value and superiority. Self-doubt is also evident in bullies who belittle and abuse others in their desperate need to feel superior and more powerful in themselves. [Read more…]